Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Letter From Chris Crutcher

Hi Folks,

Chris Crutcher was kind enough to send along a recent letter of his about censorship.

Here it is:

Dear Superintendent Plugge,

I am the author of the short story "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune" which, I understand, has come into the cross-hairs of the censors in your district. I thought you might find it helpful to have the author's point of view. You probably know I have been in this position before, with this book and with others; some for the same reasons, others for different reasons. I say that only to let you know I have no personal investment in the outcome. From a financial point of view these challenges don't affect me. They usually increase sales in the area where the book is challenged because of increased curiosity, and may dampen them in surrounding areas where teachers or administrators are afraid of getting into conflict with the loud minority who think we can best protect our children by keeping realities from them.

I'm also not interested in entering into the free speech/intellectual freedom argument wherein one side says we have to keep our kids safe by censoring what they see and the other says it's fine for any parent to censor what his/her own kids read, but not fine for them to make those decisions for all parents. We either believe in basic intellectual freedom or we don't. We either believe in our own abilities as adults to help our kids process tough information or we don't, and not many minds are going to change regurgitating those arguments.

But when it comes to the question of removing material that addresses homosexuality, maybe there should be some considerations that land closer to home. It makes no more sense to say that stories like "Angus" or "Am I Blue" or any of Brent Hartinger's or Alex Sanchez's stories 'promote' homosexuality than it does to say that Sophocles' Oedipus Rex promotes sexual fantasies about one's mother, or that The Bible promotes crucifying our heroes. Those are simply things that happen in the stories that are up for discussion.

When one of your teachers looks out over any given junior high or high school classroom, he/she sees one in ten children who are gay. Contrary to what the far right Christian community thinks, they didn't choose to be gay. I've worked as a child and family counselor for more than twenty years and with the exception of a few female clients who had been horribly sexually mistreated throughout their lives, not one gay client has ever said she or he had a choice. You might ask your censors if they can remember back to the day they "decided" to become heterosexual.

Because they are forced to lead repressed lives, gay kids have a three times greater suicide rate than heterosexual kids. We cannot, as educators, pretend not to know those statistics, and when we know them and still choose to bow to the censors, we become accomplices in the results of that depression, because when we censor those stories, we censor those kids. We tell them loud and clear that they have good reason for that depression, and for thoughts of looking for a way out. We can't pretend to not know what we know.

Educators, particularly social studies teachers, are fond of repeating the old saying, "Those who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat it." I couldn't agree more. Overwhelmingly, modern censors are made up of conservative Christians. You might want to visit some Ku Klux Klan history and listen to them evoke the name of God to back their bigotry. And make no mistake about it; if you engage in policy that diminishes a tenth (or even a hundredth) of a population that is born into their circumstances, you are a bigot. I don't care how many houses you build in Latin America or how many days you volunteer to work at the local Food Bank or how much money you tithe or give to charity. We believe in equality or we don't; we believe in justice or we don't, and hiding the truths of people's lives is unjust.

A thirteen year old gay boy that I worked with recently (who has given me permission to air his views) told me the thing that hurts him most is that for the next four years he will be unable to let anyone know who he really is. He can't allow the most powerful forces of his adolescence to be made evident even in harmless flirtation because of the possible consequences. Nobody wants to be Matthew Shepherd. But he also told me the kids these days aren't as bigoted as the adults. That gives me hope for our kids, but shames me as an adult. It should shame us all.

I believe there will be a time, hopefully before I die, when we look back on the way we have treated gays and the issue of homosexuality at the opening of the twenty first century, in the same way we now look back at the beginning of the civil rights era and wonder how such large portions of our population could have pandered to such bigotry. And we will look back at ourselves and be forced to say, in the privacy of our own thoughts, whether we were part of the problem or part of the solution. If you're an educator, there will be no in-between.

You have teachers in your schools willing to take on these subjects and work with kids on the qualities of understanding and acceptance. Where that is done well, instances of bullying always decrease. Bullying is a top-ten hot button item in schools these days.

I should also say that in my travels to districts where my books are challenged and in my dealings with the teachers and parents who are affected, I have found, even in the most conservative areas, fewer people who advocate censoring books than don't. And I have many letters from lifetime Christians who are embarrassed by the vocal fringe of their religion.

I don't speak from outside the world of education. I was a high school social studies teacher, director of a K-12 alternative school for troubled kids in my earlier career, and currently give more than a hundred presentations per year to middle and high school classes, and another fifty or so to teachers and librarians.


Chris Crutcher


Blogger Brian Farrey said...


12:19 PM  
Blogger Zoedoodle said...

Bravo, Mr. Crutcher! I only wish I could believe that your words would penetrate the closed hearts and minds of the bigots.

7:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've made your third paragraph my email signature file, as it needs to be read by one and all! The "reasoning" for censorship is terrible at best. Kudos and thanks for a well written letter.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Rachel Loeper said...

Good stuff here for teachers:
Author Series: Interview with Chris Crutcher
"Banning Books" Lesson Plan, Middle School (6-8), Persuasive Writing

7:16 AM  
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8:17 PM  

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